Eric Manning grew up in Tijeras and moved to Illinois, living with his older brother off and on as a teenager and into his 20s.
Jeff Manning, Eric’s elder by 14 years, said his brother started showing signs of mental disabilities as a child.
“He would stand and stare at a wall while someone was talking to him,” Jeff said. “He had times where he was coherent and seemed normal and there were times when he was just out on his own somewhere. It was hit or miss.”
Jeff said as he got older, Eric started getting into trouble, getting drunk and stealing cars.
Eventually, he moved to Iowa, where he camped out next to a river. Jeff said a couple of years ago he bought him a bus ticket back to New Mexico.
He said they talked on the phone frequently after Eric’s return to Albuquerque, joking around and quoting their favorite lines from movies — “Point Break” and “Tombstone” to name a few.
But by the time Eric was killed, Jeff hadn’t heard from him in about a month and was starting to worry that something had happened to him.
Eleven days after Lonnie Whittle was found in a vacant warehouse parking lot, detectives still hadn’t had any luck finding his next of kin.
They put out a call to the public for help, publishing his photo online and requesting information.
Eventually, Donna Whittle found out her uncle had died when his brother shared the news on Facebook.
“It hit me pretty hard,” she said in a phone interview from Alaska. “I had just talked to him not that long ago. He said he was trying to do something in landscaping or construction.”
Donna said her Uncle Lonnie grew up in Anchorage and was estranged from the family for more than a decade before getting back in touch about five or six years ago.
He visited her family in Alaska and then moved to Portland, where his mother lived until her death. Then he moved to New Mexico about a year or two ago.
“He couldn’t handle it after his mom died,” Donna said. “He felt kind of lost and wasn’t handling it very well, fell into a slump, drank for a while, and then pulled himself out.”
She said the last time she talked to Lonnie was in June, and he had said he was sober and doing better and looking for a job.
Two wooden stakes, bound together to make a cross, mark the spot where Eric Hicks’ body was found. “RIP Eric” is scrawled on the underside of the bridge crossing the arroyo.
A search of Hicks’ background turns up more than two dozen charges for crimes linked to poverty, hunger and addiction in Albuquerque and Santa Fe in recent years.
Court records show he was arrested for shoplifting jerky, Oreos and Pop-Tarts from local gas stations and for passing out in Walmart bathrooms with a syringe in his arm.
Hicks’ father, Scott Henrikson, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., said his son grew up there before moving to New Mexico to be with his mother as a late-teenager.
He said in recent years when they talked on the phone they would talk about his girlfriend and his three children, ages 2 to 13.
Henrickson said the oldest looks just like Eric.
“He always seemed to be happy-go-lucky and didn’t tell me a lot of his problems,” Henrikson said.
But, he said, his son would always ask for money before they hung up. Shortly before Hicks’ death, Henrickson said, he tried to pay for a hotel room for him, but the clerk wouldn’t take his credit card over the phone.
He said he thought Hicks probably got a ride to stay with his mother in Santa Fe instead.
About two weeks later, he was driving when he got the call that his son had been killed.
“I was devastated,” he said. “That’s the last thing you want to hear is your kid got murdered. At first I didn’t want to believe it. I reached out to my other son, pulled over and waited for him to call me back.”